This is a short story I entered into a contest. It didn’t place or win, but I like the story. I hope you like it, too.
“Babe, trust me. Everything’s going according to plan,” Keenan said in a low voice so as not to be heard in the kitchen from his grandparents’ den while talking to Connie on his cellphone.
When Connie replied, Keenan turned down the volume so Connie’s voice wouldn’t be overheard throughout the close quarters of his grandparents’ home. He knew the loud hum of the refrigerator obscured some sound, but he wasn’t sure how much.
To Connie’s concerns, Keenan replied, “Yes, I want them to love you as much as I do, too, but it won’t matter if they don’t because…”
“KEENAN?! BREAKFAST!” His grandmother yelled from the kitchen, but it wasn’t her usual, carefree sing-song call to breakfast.
Keenan had flown cross-country to Virginia to spend the Easter holiday weekend with his grandparents and to share some news with them that he knew would be hard for them to accept.
After the conversation he’d had with them on Maundy Thursday letting them know that he no longer believed in God, it was all his grandmother could do to be civil towards him. He knew she was wounded and angry, because he hadn’t heard her hum a single hymn in three days. He also knew that she was praying incessantly.
As for his grandfather, Keenan wasn’t sure how the old man felt. Grandad usually chose to keep his own counsel, and Keenan was aware that his grandfather knew him better than anyone else in the entire world. Grandad intimated as much when Keenan asked him what he thought, and the old man said, “An atheist, huh? Well, we’ll see.”
“…it won’t affect how I feel about you,” Keenan said. “I told you… As far as Grandma is concerned, no one’s good enough for me.”
Keenan listened to Connie’s next question and said, “Yes. Go with that. Cream and pastel yellow are perfect choices for Easter Sunday.”
Connie asked another question, and Keenan said, “Listen… They won’t care about your skin color. Granddad’s congregation has been a human rainbow for as long as I can remember, which is saying a lot when you consider where they live, and you know I practically grew up in that church.”
Keenan’s grandfather, a pastor, and his grandmother had raised him since he was three when his grandmother had refused to give him back to his parents after they’d left him and disappeared for three months.
His grandfather, a terse man when he wasn’t in the pulpit, told them, “You’re welcome to visit anytime.” That had settled Keenan’s living arrangements all the way through graduate school and until Keenan moved to the West Coast to work in Silicon Valley.
“Just give the paper to the driver, babe,” Keenan said. “He’ll know exactly where to go.”
As he listened to Connie chatter nervously, Keenan inhaled deeply and exhaled as quietly as possible. He was still getting accustomed to being in a relationship with a worry-wart. Keenan never worried. He wouldn’t get worked up about things he couldn’t control, but Connie worried endlessly. Keenan cut in and said, “Babe. <em>Stop</em> worrying. Let me get off before…”
“KEENAN?! THE EGGS!” His grandmother’s voice was harder this time.
“YES, MA’AM. I’M COMING! Babe, I gotta go.” Keenan stood up from the couch. “I love you more. I’ll see you in a few hours. Bye.”
Keenan pressed END on his cellphone, put it in the left pocket of his pajama bottoms and traversed the five steps from the living room into the kitchen.
“Pastor,” Keenan said in greeting to his grandfather, who was sitting at the table reading his newspaper.
“Son,” his grandfather said in his usual return greeting.
There was a cup of coffee in front of the old man but no food. His grandfather chose to eat after he preached. “When my stomach starts growling, it’s time to start wrapping up my sermon,” Granddad had told a ten-year-old Keenan when he’d asked his grandfather why he didn’t eat before church.
“Morning, Grandma,” Keenan said as he sat in his usual seat at the table.
The only sound that greeted him back was the humming of the refrigerator.
She had her back to him as she stood at the stove fixing his plate. Even in her anger, her sense of duty dictated that she serve him. She said, “I got your suit from the dry cleaner’s, and I ironed your shirt, tie and yellow pocket square for nothing, I guess.”
“Grandma. I don’t have a problem attending service today. I told you that.”
“Seems like a waste of time to me,” his grandmother said icily.
When she turned around, he could tell she was only looking in his direction, not at him. When she walked over and put his plate down in front of him, Keenan lightly grasped her wrist and pulled her gently down and kissed her cheek. When he was done, she broke his loose grip, walked back over to the stove and fixed her own plate.
Keenan didn’t pick up his fork. He waited for her, as usual.
When she turned around and saw him sitting there respectfully with his hands in his lap, it caused her teakettle of a temper to hit the boiling point. She walked quickly to the table and set her plate down hard. Some of her scrambled eggs toppled off the plate.
“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! You wanna say grace with us?! Didn’t you say you don’t believe in God anymore?!”
“Mother,” his grandfather said calmly, but he didn’t look away from his paper. He just turned a page.
“No, Pastor! No! I have held my peace long enough! If you won’t say something, I MUST! It’s Resurrection Day, and we’re sitting here breaking bread with a heathen!”
Keenan watched the fury mount in his grandmother’s eyes, and he hoped the dramatic rise and fall of her ample bosom wasn’t a precursor to a heart attack. He took no pleasure in her pain, but he needed this reaction from her.
“Grandma, you always taught me to follow my heart,” Keenan said calmly.
“We raised you to love God! You go off, get educated, move across the country and come back an atheist! I don’t even know who you are, Keenan Donovan Marshall!”
“You act like I’m not a good person anymore, Grandma.”
“A good person,” his grandmother said incredulously. “What does good have to do with anything? This isn’t about whether you’re a good person or not! It’s about where you’re going to spend Eternity, boy!”
Keenan looked at his grandfather and said, “Do you want to chime in here, Pastor?”
“Nope,” his grandfather said and continued to read his paper.
Keenan jumped when his grandmother slammed her fist down on the table. “I want you to say something to him, James Patrick Marshall!”
Keenan had his grandparents right where he needed them. His grandmother was using full names all around, and that meant his grandfather had to engage.
The old man put down his paper and looked at his wife. He said calmly, “Mother, this boy is no atheist.”
“I beg your pardon?!” Keenan’s grandmother was staring intensely at her husband.
As calm as always, the old man said, “He’s just making a point.”
“What point?!” Keenan’s grandmother turned her penetrating glare on him.
“Mother?” At the sound of the old man’s calm voice, Keenan’s grandmother turned her attention back to her husband.
“What, Pastor?” The annoyance was clear in her tone.
“Is there anything this boy can tell you that would be worse than him saying he’s an atheist?”
Keenan silently thanked the old man for always knowing exactly how to take a conversation where it needed to go. He looked at his grandmother as she gawked at her husband. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, and it seemed like an eternity before she spoke.
“There’s absolutely nothing he could tell me that I would find worse than him saying he doesn’t believe in God.” She turned her tear-filled eyes on Keenan. “Son… I can accept anything else you tell me, MY GOD! ANYTHING! I just canNOT accept that you’re an atheist.”
“I’m not, Grandma,” Keenan said. “I got married six months ago.”
Only the humming of the refrigerator could be heard for several moments.
“Well, who is she?” Keenan saw his grandmother’s face start to relax, and he almost didn’t want to tell her the rest.
“His name is Conrad Jackson Covington. He goes by Connie. He’s staying at a nearby hotel, and he’s going to meet us at the church for Easter Sunday service.”
Keenan watched his speechless grandmother’s expression change again. As Keenan started reaching for her hand, his grandfather called his name. Keenan looked at the old man, aware that his grandmother was still staring at him.
“Go get ready for church, son,” Keenan’s grandfather said.
As Keenan stepped out of the kitchen, he heard the pastor say, “Mother, I believe I’ll have some toast this morning.”